ENL 6236: Restoration and
Civility and the Public Sphere
Selections from the Tatler and Spectator by Addison and Steele
Also browse selections on the Norton Topics Online for Restoration and Eighteenth
century, under the topics "A Day in Eighteenth-Century London" and the "Plurality
Erin Mackie, "Introduction: Cultural and Historical Background," The Commerce
of Everyday Life: Selections from the Tatler and The Spectator,
ed. Erin Mackie (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1998), 1-32. This will be
available in PDF on the Blackboard Website, under class documents.
Notes and Discussion Questions:
The Mackie article and the introductory note in the NAEL should provide you with ample
information on the background and significance of these periodicals. They also contain
valuable information on the course theme: Civility and the Public Sphere. As you read,
consider the ways in which these texts shape public opinion and manners.
Mackie identifies "the central structural paradox of the papers" as a fundamental
dependence upon "the very commercialization and commodification they warn against" (3).
In what ways are these periodicals commodities? How do they accommodate this paradoxical
relationship to the market economy?
How would characterize the style of the papers? How do these compare with other literary
essays that you know? What is the function of the persona employed in each?
Evaluate the role of "vision" in the Spectator? What are the implications of spectatorship,
Comment upon the use of character portraits or types. Also consider the role of real
and fictitious letters from correspondents. What effect do these strategies have on
the meaning of the paper? On the popularity?
In what ways do these papers convey the values or ideological content of a middle
class prior to that class formation? (See Mackie 5-6.)
Comment: Regarding Addison and Steele as professional men, Mackie asserts: "Avoiding
the defects of both [vulgar cits and dissipated elite], they propose principles of taste
and conduct that
achieve a kind of compromise between the moral demands of a more puritanical middle
class and the stylistic refinement of the upper crust" (8).
What evidence can you find for the reformation of masculine character -- neither
rake nor fop? What do the papers recommend instead?
Evaluate Steele's representation of duelling. What does he propose? In what ways is
this a challenge to prevailing codes of masculinity?
Note the Tatler's assignment of topics to specific locales, such as coffee
impact does this have on the knowledge conveyed?
Jurgen Habermas associated these papers with the formation of a "bourgeois public
sphere" which Mackie identifies as "at once a symbolic space and a literal space for
the production of that set of ideological and social ideals we have come to identify
with the polite middle class" (16). How does this public "become aware of itself" (17)?
What role do the periodicals and the coffee houses play?
Examine the premise that "theoretically at least, in the public sphere discrepancies
of wealth and status are rendered inoperative" (17). How true is this?
Mackie provides important information on the formation of gender difference in the era,
but I believe she overstates the gendering of separate spheres (a reality that may have
appeared in the nineteenth century, but is never really absolute). For more information
on this, please refer to Lawrence Klein, "Gender and the Public/Private Distinction in
the Eighteenth Century: Some Questions about Evidence and Analytical Procedure,"
Eighteenth-century Studies 29.1 (1996): 97-109.
"According to the ideology of gender at work in The Tatler and The Spectator
, woman form a distinct social category defined solely by their innate female nature" (20).
What evidence for this can you find in the essays?
As writings of notable Whigs, how do the essays politicize the arenas of taste and
Who are the members of the Spectator club? What does this membership suggest about
the organization of Addison and Steele’s society? Who is missing? Why?
What are the Spectator’s goals? What does it mean to be the Socrates of the tea-table?
Why are female readers particularly likely to benefit from the essays?
Why is Addison so interested in determining true, false and mixed wit?
What is at stake in the discussion?
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